IT outsourcing: When it makes sense … and when it doesn’t

Experts urge more caution for colleges seeking outsourced IT solutions.

Cloud computing, Software as a Service (SaaS), and “managed” or “hosted” services: These are terms that today’s campus IT chiefs surely are familiar with. But do these ed-tech models make sense for higher-education institutions?

That was the question that Geoff Tritsch, vice president of Vantage Technology Consulting Group, sought to help campus IT leaders answer last month during a breakout session at the 40th annual conference of the Association for Information Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education (ACUTA).

All of these IT delivery models are forms of outsourcing, Tritsch told a packed conference room at the Hilton Bonnet Creek in Orlando. That is, all involve the contracting out of a business function—typically one performed in-house before, such as hosting software on your own internal servers—to an outside provider.

They’re also very trendy right now.

Companies have been making ambitious claims about how much money colleges and universities can save by offloading the work of hosting and managing software on their own computers—claims that Tritsch warned campus IT leaders to be wary of.

“The hype machine on IT outsourcing has been running full blast,” he said, adding that such hype tends to run about 10 to 15 years ahead of reality.

For example, voice over IP service has been touted as a game changer since about 1998, Tritsch said—but only now is this prediction finally being realized.

“Bill Gates said people tend to overestimate the change that will happen in two years and underestimate the change that will happen in 10 years,” he said. “That applies to outsourcing, too.”

That’s not to say schools can’t reap significant benefits from outsourcing some or all of their IT services to an external provider, Tritsch said. But campus technology chiefs must do their homework and must carefully weigh several questions when determining whether outsourcing makes good business sense for their department.

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